How Veterinarians Handle Being Second-Guessed

Vet examining x-ray

Many years ago, a young woman brought me an uncomfortable Boston Terrier I quickly diagnosed with a bladder full of bladder stones — a clear-cut case on X-ray if ever there was one. My client’s boyfriend (and the dog's true owner), however, disagreed with my diagnosis via telephone. As a human radiologist, he claimed he didn’t have to see the picture I’d taken. He knew for a fact that bladder stones were indifferent to X-rays, thereby laying the groundwork for a dispute over the bill.

As this example illustrates, dissent is a discomfiting fact of life. Whatever your profession, persuasion or path in life, you will encounter opposition in the form of the second guess.

Challenges Aren't Always Well Accepted

Clearly, veterinarians have it no better. Contrary clients, staff members and even other colleagues are there at every turn to remind us that: a) we do not act in a social vacuum, and b) we are not perfect.

Not that it’s always fun to field a dissenting opinion. Not that it’s always welcome, well-received or even useful if it were. Nevertheless, being second-guessed can be a very valuable tool… if only it’s accepted with an open mind and given a positive spin, to boot.

Unfortunately, my less-than-charitable reaction to the client in the above example will not serve as poster child for how second guesses are best handled. Not only did I threaten to sue him for theft of services if he revoked the charges on his credit card, I also referred him to a stash of research confirming his ignorance, and asked (none too politely) that he take his business elsewhere in the future.

It Pays to Be Civil

In case it’s not already obvious, let me explain: This is NOT the way veterinarians should handle second guesses. Here are a few reasons why:

1. One bad turn never deserves another. This reason applies to all people and all reactions, really. After all, reacting adversely to another’s negativity has never done much to improve a situation.

2. It could be a teaching opportunity. Arguably, veterinarians are as much in the business of education as they are in the business of fixing animals. The way I see it, the two are inextricably entwined. That’s why veterinarians should seize upon any opportunity to teach, regardless of its uncomfortable origins.

In this case, I should have remarked geekily on the impressive differences between humans and dogs: “Isn’t the mineralization of canine uroliths just amazing?”

3. It's bad for business. It goes without saying that to fire a client, as I did in the above example, is not generally considered a sound business decision. That is, not if it can be avoided. Sure, the client was a) wrong and b) acting like an idiot. But let’s be honest: If I fired every client who met those two criteria on occasion, I’d have no clients. Indeed, I’d have fired myself long ago.


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